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The MD / PhD Track : MSTP Discussion 2

MD/PhD Discussion 2

Moderator: So I've spent some time thinking about when an MD/PhD is useful, and when it's not. If I were you, I would talk face to face to some MDs, some PhDs and some MD/PhDs, to get a variety of opinions. Here's my experience.

- Doing my PhD gave me a great basic science background, even compared to most MD/fellows. I have a better understanding of the issues and techniques associated with my basic science field than almost any straight MD does.

- I have a much worse understanding of the clinical problems that need research. Many non-clinicians can make significant advances in clinical fields, but often any clinical problem seems worth studying - even though it might be an unimportant one.

- After I finished my PhD and returned to 3rd year med school, I had 2 professors in internal medicine who had started medical school with me. I had several surgical residents who taught me. In a way it was nice because as a 3rd year I got to do a lot more than I might otherwise have. Of course, had I gone straight medicine I would have been teaching or doing surgery by then.

- The stipend you get as an MD/PhD is trivial. Definitely don't let that sway you one way or another. It's just a way of keeping you eating while you're in lab.

- Will the extra 4-6 years in a PhD program help you reach your ultimate goal of teaching, doing research and practicing medicine? It could, but is the incremental improvement in opportunity worth the extra time? That's subjective, but for me the answer is no. If I had things to do over again, I'd go either straight PhD or straight MD.

Again, get a variety of opinions - and make sure to ask specific questions because the answers change when you start pressing for specifics.

KRISTIN: Thank you again! I actually paid a visit today to one of the medical schools on my list, and tried to do as you suggested. I talked to the admissions personnel for the program, and asked them very straightforward questions regarding where each of the options (MD/PhD vs. MD/fellow) will take me. I know I have a lot of thinking to do, as I'm still not sure if I A) want to make a choice between clinician and researcher and B) what the choice would be. I very much want to practice medicine, which is what makes me think the MD/PhD might not be the best for me. From what the admissions people and some of the professors from both the medicine and biochemistry people said, most that opt for the dual degree end up doing about a 80/20 research/clinical ratio. That sort of bothers me...I really like dealing with people, and more directly helping them. However, I like the idea of being at the very source of a solution as well..hence why I need to think about this a lot. As of now, I'm leaning towards the MD option...like you, many dual-degree-ers that I've talked to have said that they would do one or the other. What I'm most afraid of is getting through the 8 years or so needed for the dual degree, and not liking research as much as I do now...but I also don't want to entirely shut out the opportunity to be a great scientist. Please feel free to tell me anything that might help..you've really given me a lot to think about so far. Thank you again!

Continued in the next MD/PhD discussion

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